All the things the boy will do, I promise to do better. In all the ways he can love you, I promise to love you better.
Ijeoma is eleven years old when the Nigerian Civil War breaks out. Eleven, when her father dies in the subsequent bombings that ravage her Igbo village. Eleven, when her mother sends her away to live with a grammar school teacher and his barren wife—whether for Ijeoma’s safety or out of the grief her mother has yet to cope with, Ijeoma herself cannot say. And she is eleven, living at the grammar school teacher’s, cleaning up and tending his home, when Ijeoma first finds love in the young Hausa girl that comes to live with them.
Under the Udala Trees is a subtle, slow burn that pays off emotionally in every conceivable way. From the onset of the Nigerian Civil War to Under the Udala Trees’ quiet and satisfying ending, we are dropped into and left to ruminate on Ijeoma’s world where the expectations of an only child—a girl child, at that—are monumental and the future she sees for herself as an independent woman freely living with her female lover, is inherently antithetical to how those around her would see her: dutiful student, dutiful daughter, dutiful Christian, dutifully working her way to being an equally dutiful wife. The constant push and pull of these warring ideas creates a beautifully, sometimes painfully, layered experience.
“About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police… That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops.”
The above statistic is an opening line in a report run by the LA Times in August of 2019, detailing the realities of police violence against communities of color, particularly against black boys and men. This statistic is just a number to many young Americans but a dangerous reality for black and brown boys living in the United States.
Justyce, a soon-to-be graduate and honor roll student, lives this reality in Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, a book that explores what it means to be a young man forced grapple with and question how not only authority figures see him and boys like him, but how his peers see him, too.
This self-perception is tested from the moment Dear Martin begins—a simple attempt at helping his currently drunk and bumbling ex-girlfriend get home safely turning into a violent and unprovoked encounter with a police officer. This encounter, a first for Justyce, springboards vivid political discussions in his debate classes, with his peers, even the adults in his life, and leads to one escalation after another that leaves Justyce questioning his own humanity, and questioning whether or not it even matters when others’ judgement can mean the difference between life and death?
Are you not magnificent? Or you will be, one day. But first, you must earn your beauty.
N.K. Jemisin’s entry into the Forward Series—a series of short stories featuring noted SFF authors—is, in a word, masterful, seeking to answer the titillating question of what would happen if Earth got to the point that it was truly uninhabitable? If, in a last-ditch effort to save humanity, the elite, the best, left, taking themselves to the stars to start anew?
This premise is not one that is new in speculative fiction. It is not even outside the realm of reality, when we have men like Elon Musk existing in our timeline, and the notion of colonizing nearby planets like Mars isn’t entirely novel. Space is, after all, the final frontier, and humanity is ever seeking to expand beyond the natural boundaries given to it.
Books can be intimidating, even for the most avid reader—especially when they’re big books. As much as I love the satisfaction that comes with crushing a thick book, actually deciding to pick one up and dive into it in the first place takes a little more effort than I’d like to admit. Sometimes I just don’t have the attention span or the time to dedicate to a larger book; sometimes I’m just outright lazy.
ReadYourTomesAThon has entered the chat.
Created by Ness over at The Wolf and Books, the ReadYourTomesAThon is a year-long readathon meant to tackle your tomes—at your pace. The goal is to read books at five hundred pages or more, year-round. How many or how few, is up to you: as long as you read them, and especially if they’re books you’ve been putting off because of their sheer page count or because they’re backlist TBR books. Though, for those of us that like a little extra challenge, she’s also created a really fun leveling system that gives you a different librarian level for every additional volume of books you read. Kind of like leveling up a DND character… but for reading thick books.
For this readathon, I’ve gone through my physical books, making those my priority for my selections. If I happen to read books my partner owns that fit into this challenge, or get through a particularly impressive e-book, I’ll add them to the list.
Blood & Beauty
The Poppy War
Star Wars: Lost Stars
Celtic Myths & Legends
Black Leopard, Red Wolf
The Divine Comedy
Wicked & Son of a Witch
The Star Wars Trilogy
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The Vampire Chronicles
The three from this list that I think I’m the most invested in getting through this year are The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, and The Vampire Chronicles Trilogy by Anne Rice. I think they’re also the heaviest in terms of themes and events of the books that I own, so that should be fun. (That’s not sarcasm; I’m a glutton for literary punishment.)
For the full run-down on joining and participating in the ReadYourTomesAThon, check out Ness’ blogpost announcing the readathon, where she outlines the nitty-gritty of the rules so you can get started. After that, happy reading~
Growing up, I didn’t read a lot of poetry. I latched on to Shel Silverstein when I was young enough that my school libraries were still carrying Where the Sidewalk Ends on the shelves rather than wall-to-wall stacks of reference material. That’s about it, if we don’t count my Nan feeding an early interest in Poe and assigned readings in English making me learn about iambic pentameter (I don’t, mainly because I still don’t know what iambic means, nor why it’s in pentameter.)
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had fluctuating opinions on poetry, from being vaguely interested but not committed enough to pull my nose out of novels, to outright confused about the boom in ‘Insta poetry’ and similar styles. Then, last year, I got my hands on an ARC for the poetry collection Sparks of Phoenix by Najwa Zebian. To say that it ignited a healthy interest would be an understatement; I fell in love with that collection and Najwa Zebian’s writing. I fell in love with the deep, simmering catharsis that worked its way through me as I read, leaving me with an experience that felt less like opening old wounds and more like peacefully acknowledging their presence.
I’ve made it a point to seek out more poetry since then. There is something elegant in the way a poet paints words on a page that isn’t captured in a novel, and two collections that I’ve read this year brought up those same feelings of catharsis and feeling seen as Sparks of Phoenix did for me last year.